PGA of America expects 'full fan experience' for 2021 Ryder Cup
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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C.—The PGA of America is welcoming 10,000 fans per day this week at the PGA Championship. It’s a big number, although a number that remains short of the Ocean Course’s maximum capacity. Don’t expect a similar situation at the PGA of America's big event this September.
Speaking Tuesday at Kiawah Island, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said his organization is planning on welcoming a packed house for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.
“We have every hope and every desire and we're working very hard to make it an absolute full fan experience,” Waugh said. “We're working obviously with the state and local governments to have all those conversations. It'll be fluid. But our plan is to have a Ryder Cup in a way—have it be the greatest Ryder Cup in history. I think the world as we've seen is ready to have a party.
“The Olympics is going to happen it looks like, but not in the way that you would hope it would. And so this is really going to be the first time to cheer for your country, to have that sort of tribal—in-person anyway—to have that sort of tribal atmosphere that is so important. We're hopeful that September will be one of the great events in golf and a great sort of exclamation point to the end of this thing. We think it's all going to happen fast from here, certainly from a U.S. perspective. I realize the world still has a lot of challenges out there, but from a U.S. perspective we're really hopeful we'll be able to pull it off.”
Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s chief championships officer, echoed that sentiment. “We are working with the county and the state of Wisconsin and have submitted our COVID protocol plan, which as Seth mentioned continues to change and evolve every day,” Haigh said. “We're hopeful that by September we will be able to have full attendance. If it were today we could not, based on where COVID numbers are, but certainly with the vaccine and the numbers coming down, we are very hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to have a full attendance.”
Though professional golf returned from its COVID-19 sabbatical in June, restrictions prevented fans from attending the Ryder Cup. A number of players, including Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka, expressed reservations about playing the biennial match without spectators. A notion Waugh seconded, which is why the Cup was postponed.
“A Ryder Cup with no fans is not a Ryder Cup,” Waugh said last year. “The Ryder Cup is uniquely about the fans. We didn’t want to build Lambeau Field, get hopes up and then have to cancel.”
However, as the vaccination rollout continues in the United States, more states are easing crowd limitations, with a number of sporting leagues beginning to allow full capacity to their stadiums and arenas. Regarding Whistling Straits, though the PGA of America brass would not put a number on it, Michael O’Reilly, the director of golf operations at Destination Kohler (which runs and owns the course), said earlier this year full capacity would be around 40,000 fans per day.
The 2021 Ryder Cup begins Sept. 24. The Europeans are the defending champs.